Sunday, 19 August 2012

A Sound British Adventure

If you're quick you might still get to listen to A Sound British Adventure, on the BBC Radio 4 iPlayer. Presented by Stewart Lee ("the only person the BBC could find, with a radio-friendly voice, who had actually been to a Stockhausen concert"), it focuses on the post-war years when a cottage industry of electronic musicians develped in Britain cobbling together sound-generating machines from army surplus radio gear, and producing electronic music that at the time was seen as throw-away, low-art, whilst their peers in Europe and the USA were regarded as exponents of high-art and funded accordingly.

Here's the programme synopsis:
Comedian Stewart Lee is passionate about electronic music and he take us on a remarkable musical journey. We discover how, after the Second World War, a small group of electronic pioneers began tinkering with their army surplus kit to create new sounds and music.
Tristram Cary started the first electronic music studio in Britain but, while France, Germany, Italy and the USA had lavishly funded research centres, British electronic music remained the preserve of boffins on a budget.

As the programme reveals, this make do and mend approach prevailed long after austerity Britain had given way to the swinging 60s, with Peter Zinovieff developing EMS synthesizers from a shed at the bottom of his garden in Putney. (Paul McCartney put on his wellies and took a look). Zinovieff is interviewed about his experiments in sound.

Unsurprisingly, the electronic community in Britain was a small, intimate group and joining Cary and Zinovieff was Daphne Oram, who devoted decades to developing a 'drawn sound' electronic composition system that never really quite worked.

Brian Hodgson tells us about 1960s experimental and electronic festivals, including The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave (1967) at which The Beatles' electronic piece Carnival Of Light had its only public airing. We shall also hear how the radiophonic workshop broke new musical ground with Dr. Who.

Experts in the history of electronic music, including author and musician Mark Ayers and Goldsmiths College lecturer in computer studies Dr. Michael Grierson give the boffins' view and Portishead's Adrian Utley explains why the early forays in electronics are still relevant today.
It's available on the BBC iPlayer until Tuesday morning >> LISTEN HERE

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